Child Nutrition Reauthorization: Keeping Good Nutrition GOOD

The #ThanksMichelleObama hashtag made famous by schoolchildren all over social media may have been heavier on the sarcasm than the sincerity, but many of us at Red Rabbit have been in support of the higher nutritional standards for school food, and our meals have managed to stay tasty even while adhering to the higher standards - so it IS possible!

With 23% of New York City children from food-insecure households depending upon school lunches to provide them with at least one nutritious meal each day, the need for strong food standards is less politics, and more dietetics. Why, then, do our food assistance programs continue to find themselves held hostage throughout the legislative process? Shouldn’t the health of our children and the strength of our families be more important than partisan squabbles across the aisles of Congress? What is in store for school food and Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) in 2015?

On Tuesday, 12/16, we attended the seminar 80 Years of Federal Food Assistance Policy: Implications for Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Uncertain Times hosted by the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, and led by Professor Janet Poppendieck, author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. Topics covered included the history of food assistance programs in U.S., dating back to the bread lines during the Great Depression of the 1930’s; the role of Big Business and Big Ag in food policy; and what we can do to ensure school food is kept safe from becoming target practice for political fights in the future.

In the seminar, Poppendieck highlighted how food assistance has been big business for decades. From farmers to firms that supply school lunches and the materials needed (ie, lunch trays, utensils, cookware and equipment), to the retailers who accept SNAP and WIC benefits, there are many who stand to gain and lose a lot with the passing of each bill. Many were quite vocal about the newer food restrictions advocated by the First Lady and what was ultimately passed in the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, or HHFA. The most recent spending bill passed by Congress eased some of these restrictions, most notably sodium levels, for the sake of making it easier for schools and vendors to comply with nutrition standards.

Yet the question we ask is, should school food be easy - or should it be good?

Everyone can agree on the importance of a healthy society and reducing rates of heart disease and Type II Diabetes, especially in children. Red Rabbit believes that the earlier we can instill healthy eating habits, the better off we will be as a whole. Kids who are excited about eating their fruits and veggies will turn into adults who are open-minded when it comes to trying new foods, not to mention healthier than their peers who were not encouraged and exposed to a wide variety while they were in school. Sure, french fries are fun finger foods to eat every so often – but should they really be considered part of a nutritionally balanced meal?

If we citizens are concerned about the motivations - whether political in bent, or business, or both - behind changes to the HHFA and continued investment in CNR, and want to be a part of making sure that the strides made in school food are not allowed to fall prey to special interest groups, one thing we can do is follow the NYC Alliance for CNR, a group convened by City Harvest and the Tisch Center at Teachers College Columbia University.  They are developing priorities and action plans for advocacy, and people can register as individuals or organizations to participate in their efforts.

At Red Rabbit, we will continue to do our part by providing over 20,000 students each day with our yummy, made-from-scratch breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Our fun and innovative Education Team, led by Director Rebecca Gildiner, will keep developing lessons and labs that will engage and enrich schoolchildren across the city. We love being a part of this ever-growing movement of passionate citizens who seek awareness and access to better nutrition, and we look forward to all that can be accomplished in 2015!

Have a healthy day!

Hayley Lutz, Red Rabbit Customer Care/Program Development



A Happy, Healthy Holiday!

The holiday season is a flurry of activity, celebration and family fun.  This is the perfect time of year to gather with our loved ones, enjoy delicious meals and reflect on the year gone by.  It is easy to become stressed during the holidays, but never fear!  There are lots of creative ways to keep your family active and engaged during the winter and enjoy the holiday season!

Just because the temperature has dropped and there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean we need to stay indoors.  Here are some ways to engage your family in winter fun, both indoors and outdoors:

  • Create an indoor obstacle course.  Use couch cushions, pillows, chairs and blankets to keep kids moving and warm on a cold snow day or weekend morning.
  • Host a dance party!  Clear the furniture, put on some slippery socks and turn up the tunes.  Dance to your heart’s content and finish off with a steaming mug of homemade cocoa.
  • If you’re staying in New York City for the holidays, check out the MTA’s annual Holiday Season Nostalgia trains.  Thesevintage subway trains run along the Sixth Avenue line from Long Island City, Queens to Lower Manhattan; check them out this Sunday, December 22 from 10 am-5 pm.
  • Create and innovate at ReMake the Holidays!  Kids can create and explore new ways to re-use and up-cycle existing materials into gifts and gadgets for the holidays.
  • Make a treat for the birds: gather a few pinecones from a nearby park. Tie some twine or string in a loop at the top of the pinecone. Spread the pinecone with some nut butter and sprinkle nuts and seeds all over it. Hang in a nearby tree for the birds to snack on and enjoy!
  • Venture to the great outdoors for a family stroll or hike in a nearby park or on a trail. Be sure to wear lots of layers and check out these great tips for winter hikes with children.
  • Make a homemade bean bag toss to practice throwing and aiming skills, from the comfort of your living room. All you need is a cardboard box, some paint, scissors, tape and bean bags. Check out the how-to here.
  • While you’re still feeling creative, take a look at our Pinterest “Winter Fun!” board for more unique crafts and activities.


If you’ve still got energy left after all of these winter adventures and outings, cozy up with your loved ones and bake some yummy and healthy holiday cookies to share!

Red Rabbit Whole Wheat & Cranberry Cookies

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ cup organic butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or pure orange extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup agave nectar or 1 ½ cup brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Cream softened butter with agave until well blended. Add one egg at a time until fully incorporated. Add vanilla.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cornmeal and salt. Gradually add dry mixture to liquid mixture. Do not over mix.
  3. Gently fold in dried cranberries. Let mixture rest chilled for 30 minutes.
  4. Roll into 1” balls and flatten. Place on lined sheet pan.
  5. At 350°, bake in oven for 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Cool and enjoy!

Red Rabbit wishes you and your loved ones a happy and healthy holiday season. We hope you enjoy some of these activities with your family and start some of your own new traditions this year. Cheers to a happy and healthy holiday and new year! 

Breaking the Protein Myths

Off of the heels of popular diets such as Atkins and South Beach, Americans are as enamored with the little groups of nitrogen containing building blocks as they have ever been.  And why not?  Protein is used for creation and structure of every cell in our bodies and its enzymatic reaction allows for many essential chemical processes to occur.  Protein antibodies are also one defense that keeps us free from illness.  Even the word itself derives from the Greek word protos, meaning first, or of primary importance.  In a recent International Food Information Council (IFIC) survey, 48% of respondents stated that they are currently trying to eat more protein.  Reasons given vary from perceived increased satiety to beliefs that it will aid in weight loss.

There is no doubt that eating enough protein is paramount to good health.  But what is enough protein? What do you hear people saying about protein?  With so many voices chiming in on the great protein debate, let’s take a closer look at some myths and misconceptions!

I should be concerned about getting enough protein.

Protein, protein, protein!  It’s one of the hottest marketing tools in the food world, leading us to question our own protein intake and believe that the more protein, the better.  So where do we stand as a nation when it comes to protein intake?

According to the USDA, the average adult male needs 56 grams per day, and an adult woman, 46 g.  Now compare that to what the average adult man and woman consumes: 102 g and 71 g, respectively.  That places us at near double the recommended amount!

The numbers are significantly more staggering when looking at children, who (using a 6-year-old boy as an example) can be getting as much as 3.5 times the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).  So, are we getting enough protein – or, are we getting too much?

More protein equals more benefits.

Can there be too much of a good thing?  In regards to protein, maybe.  While potential hazardous effects of over-consuming protein (such as kidney strain and cancer) are up for debate, protein’s benefits do have a dropping-off point.  Once we have satisfied our body’s fundamental need for protein, current research shows more protein has no additional role in the body.  

What happens with that excess protein?  At  4 calories per gram, those excess calories from excess protein ends up being converted to fat if unused.  From this perspective, diets that promote excessive protein consumption without reducing overall caloric intake can be seen as a source of weight gain – and this kind of excess weight does not come in the form of muscle! Still, it’s worth noting that most of these diets do in fact include overall calorie reduction - arguably, the very reason many have lost weight while following them.

I need meat/animal products for my protein.

Protein is protein, right?  Well, not really.

One way to categorize protein is complete vs. incomplete.  Animal sources of protein tend to be complete, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids necessary for biological function. Incomplete proteins, on the other hand, do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Plant-based protein sources (beans, legumes, nuts) generally fall into this category - with the exception of soy protein. 

Therefore, when getting our protein exclusively from plants, we need to consume complementary proteins. These are protein sources that make up for each other’s lacking amino acids. Beans and rice are a classic example. These proteins were previously thought to need to be consumed at the same meal, but according to new research, these foods complement one another, even when eaten at different times in the same day.

Getting protein from plants is unhealthy/unsafe/too difficult.

 This need to complement proteins tends to deter people from eating a more plant-based eating style.  But consider this: eating protein from plant sources promotes variety, which is a very important part of a well-balanced diet.  Choosing a diet rich in plants has shown to have a myriad of benefits. We know today that the fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and polyphenols we get by-and-large from plants have a great role in our overall health and longevity.  Eating a piece of grilled chicken every day for lunch and dinner simply won’t provide us with the same benefits.  

A great way to start this shift is to join in on Meatless Mondays, or choose your own day of the week to go “meatless!”

I work out, so I need lots of protein.

The general scientific consensus on protein intake when trying to gain muscle mass is that we do need more – just how much more is the question. A good rule of thumb is to increase protein consumption to about 0.6 grams per pound of body weight for your average gym-goer, and up to 0.8 to 1 gram for high-level athletes. For a 170 lb male going to the gym 5 times a week, this amounts to about 102 grams per day - the amount the average male is already getting.

Something important to consider: focusing on eating lots of high protein foods tends to push healthy sources of complex carbohydrates off of our plates.  Remember, our bodies and brains need carbohydrates for fuel  - we can’t perform at our best without consuming a sufficient amount!

There is no denying the importance of protein in our diets, but it’s just as important to remember all of the other key players in creating a healthy, fit lifestyle.  When one element of a diet becomes a trend, keep an open mind and stay informed.  Clever marketing can have a hypnotic effect on consumers, and we want our decisions to be founded upon good, sensible science – not myths and fads!


Here’s to good health!

John Bashant

Nutrition Compliance/Account Coordinator

Navigating the Take-Out Menu

Navigating the Take-Out Menu

We all have days when we just don’t have the energy (or the time) to prepare a homemade meal for the family. Luckily, navigating takeout food options doesn't mean we have to sacrifice either our taste buds or our health. There are plenty of healthy and satisfying options from our favorite to-go spots. As a general rule, it’s best to stay away from deep fried, sauce-heavy foods from any cuisine. Sticking to vegetables, brown rice, plant-based proteins like beans and edamame, and broth-based soups ensures a healthy treat for the whole family. Remember: portion sizes tend to be large when ordering out, so share one entree between two people, or save half for lunch! Below, we've outlined some of our favorite healthy takeout options by cuisine.

Read More

Food of the Month: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia (Seeds)!

This month, we are featuring a very special, versatile food: chia seeds!

While Red Rabbit is still the same nut-and-seed-free facility we have always been (so we won't be featuring this on our menu), we can't help but spread the news about this wonderful little food that you can enjoy in your own homes.  

Native to Mexico and Guatemala, chia is an edible seed from a flowering plant in the mint family. It was used as a staple crop for Aztec and Mayan cultures, believed by some to be as heavily cultivated as maize (corn)! Today, chia is grown throughout southern Mexico and Central America, and has become increasingly popular in the health food industry in North America.

Fun fact: Yes, the famed Chia Pets you may remember from the 1980's can thank the versatile chia seed for their lush, grassy furs! Indeed, sprouting chia seeds were responsible for the coats of our green friends. Who knew chia seeds could serve so many purposes?


How are Chia Seeds Good for Me?

Chia means “strength,” most likely stemming from ancient cultures’ use of the grain for energy and stamina. Still today, chia are praised for their nutrient-dense properties. Chia seeds are similar in nutritional benefits to another edible seed...the flax seed. The difference is that there is no need to grind the chia seed to take advantage of the nutritional benefits, and they do not go rancid the way flax does. While the total health benefits of the seeds are still being researched and discovered, this much we do know: chia are a source of dietary fiber and protein, and provide substantial amounts of minerals, including calcium and phosphorus. Ounce for ounce, they contain more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon! All of this makes it a great addition to our respective diets in that it carries the potential for fighting heart disease, as well as preventing diabetes and other chronic diseases.

TIP: Due to their high fiber content, it is recommended not to consume more than 1 ounce a day of these filling seeds.

How can we use them? The seeds’ mild flavor makes them easy to add into a host of recipes. They can be eaten raw or added into beverages, baked goods, or porridge. They become gelatinous when soaked in liquid, which can form a slimy texture that may take some getting used to, but is also very useful in making puddings! Also try sprinkling raw chia seeds onto salads, adding them to smoothies, dropping them into drinking water, or baking them into health bars, muffins, oatmeal, cookies, breads and granola.


How do I buy Chia Seeds?

Chia seeds come in both black and white varieties. The seeds are available in packages or in the bulk section of most health foods stores and increasingly in many grocery stores. Chia seeds can be expensive, but remember, a little bit goes a very long way!

Have fun experimenting with these little guys, and please feel free to share any successful recipes!


In Health,

The Red Rabbit Team

Food for Thought: Healthy Choices

One of my favorite things to do as a little girl was going out to lunch with my dad and three sisters every Saturday. Because we were a large family operating on a country lawyer’s budget (Mom was our “domestic engineer”), the restaurant was usually not a fancy one (there weren’t - aren’t - any Zagat-rated places in my small Illinois hometown).  In fact, most of the time our destination was McDonald’s.

Fast forward 20-something years: rates of obesity have skyrocketed, unemployment has risen and thus the ability for many folks to feed home-made meals to their families has been hampered by wages not keeping up with inflation.  This has led to a growing dependence upon fast-food restaurants to feed families on shoestring budgets, and while they are able to meet that consumer need, the highly processed, high-sodium and high-sugar-laden meals have long been suspected of exacerbating the increased rates of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes not just in adults, but in our children.

While there has been a reduction in sugar between the traditional Happy Meal of our childhood and of today’s, the reality is that the nutritional content of the most troublesome threats to our health are not improved:

2013 Happy Meal – Hamburger, Fries, Water and Apple Slices

Calories from Fat 160

Sodium 750mg

Total Fat 17g

Saturated Fat 6g

Traditional Happy Meal – Cheeseburger, Fries and Coca-Cola

Calories from Fat 160

Sodium 760mg

Total Fat 17g

Saturated Fat 6g

According to Fast Food Facts 2013 marketing report, which lists the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity as a primary source, the industry is still spending billions of dollars a year marketing to children and teens - $4.6 billion, to be exact. Compare that to $116 million used to promote fruits and vegetables, and it’s clear that it’s a David-meets-Goliath situation on our hands.

There have been some positive changes, albeit not enough for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which opines that McDonalds’ recent announcement to eliminate sugary sodas from their Happy Meals is just a first step in a very long journey to making fast-food truly healthy. However, to read the McDonald’s press release, we can see that their efforts are going beyond soda to include promoting “only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising,” and “ensure 100 percent of all advertising directed to children to include a fun nutrition or childrens well-being-message.” 

Okay, Ronald McDonald and team - duly noted!

Still, display ads for Happy Meals increased 63%, to 31 million ads monthly. Three-quarters appeared on kids sites such as, and, while according to the same report, less than 1% of all kids meal combinations (33 out of 5,427 possible meals) met school-meal nutrition standards recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Only Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell, Arby’s and Jack in the Box offered main dish options that were not too high in calories, sodium or saturated fat. When advertising increases but nutrition does not, it makes for some questionably hollow moves on the restaurant’s part.

Another innovative-for-the-fast-food-industry idea coming from McDonald’s is that of swapping books with a nutrition theme for those toys that come with a Happy Meal. In an experiment that began two weeks ago and ends this Saturday, McDonald’s released 20 million books, written specifically for them (by an ad agency) and published by them, in their Happy Meals.

Should we be suspicious of this move as yet another marketing ploy from a business that has billions of dollars at stake? Or should we be supportive and encouraging of someone in the vilified fast-food industry FINALLY making the first move toward not just healthier advertising, but healthier content?

At Red Rabbit, we’ve had some lively discussions over this issue. A few of us are in the camp of being guardedly optimistic, the reasoning being founded in the harsh reality that many people can only afford to eat at fast-food places, and the fact that McDonald’s is making an effort in this manner means that more people are going to be exposed to more literature on healthier choices than they would otherwise. If the end result of this experiment is that of children who may never be exposed to the idea of eating right are reading these books and more like them, then these could be considered very good steps indeed. We want the eyes of children to be open so that when they go to McDonald’s (which may never change), they order the iceberg side salad with lite Italian dressing, instead of the large fries.

Then there are those of us in the other camp: no matter the positive way one can try to spin it, this is still just advertising to children to sell more sodium-and-sugar-laden Happy Meals, thinly veiled as concern for the health of our children. Again, these books are, admittedly, written and devised by an ad agency and published by McDonald’s, and not by a panel of nutritionists or public health officials - leaving one to ponder what percentage is indeed mere marketing ploy, and what is concern and acknowledgement in their part of the problem. This latest effort could then be considered akin to a beverage company adding nutrients to a sugar-laden juice drink and labeling it "healthy" or "natural.”

Regardless of healthier changes being made by any fast food venue, the consensus is to avoid them whenever possible. Food is meant to be prepared, not just consumed; it is meant to foster communication and bonding between family and friends. The more involved we are in the process of bringing food from the farm to our tables, the more we can appreciate its value as fuel for our minds and bodies, and not just as a quick fix for our taste buds.

To good food, and good food for thought!

Hayley Lutz

Communications and Accounts Coordinator

Food Dating - Or, Is it Still Good?

Eating a bowl of one’s favorite cereal should be an enjoyable occasion, be it the first thing we have in the morning for breakfast or as a tasty, healthier alternative snack to butter-drenched popcorn while watching a movie. For those of us who have settled in and taken the first bite, only to be greeted with a more sour than sweet experience, that little printed date we find on many of the foods in our kitchens has become very important indeed!

The question, of course, is what exactly do these dates mean? And why is it that some foods are spoiled after this date, while others appear to be (and taste) just fine? Is this really an expiration date?

The fact of the matter is, there are a number of dates manufacturers can place upon their products, and – aside from infant formula and baby food – there are no federal requirements for food producers to put dates on their products. Surprising? We thought so, too! While there is no universal guide for food labeling in the U.S., according the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, approximately 20 states do require some sort of dating guide on foods sold in their jurisdiction. Still, there are some areas where no dating is required. How, then, can we be sure that what we are eating is still good to consume – let alone questioning its safety?

The FSIS offers detailed descriptions on their website, and we’ve provided some of their basic dating codes here for you to keep as a quick guide:

Sell-by: This is for the grocery store, and tells them how long they can keep a product on their shelves.

Best-by/before: Recommends the peak time for a food, but is not intended to be used as a safety guide

Use-by: The last date before a food’s quality begins to diminish; is determined by the manufacturer

Closed/coded dating: more often found on shelf-stable products, and used by the manufacturer for packing purposes

When doubting a date on a product, or if product doesn’t have a date at all, using our senses is a keen way to determine if a food is past its prime to the point it could cause illness. Here are a few things for families to keep in mind:

Eyes:  Does it look normal? Some foods and drinks, like dairy products, are generally uniform in color. Sometimes it’s easy to tell: i.e., if a food has mold on it or is very soft (mushy), with substantial discoloration, it’s best to toss it. Milk should not curdle, but it’s important to note if it is homogenized or non-homogenized. Non-homogenized milk will experience some separation and needs to be shaken to create the smooth consistency many of us have come to expect. For instance, many of our school partners receive milk from Ronnybrook, which is non-homogenized. You can read more information about Ronnybrook and their products by visiting them here.

Nose:  Does it smell sour? This indicates the presence of bacteria.  If a food has a pungent odor, it’s best to get rid of it.

Taste:  We don’t recommend children get in on this part of the “is it good?” assessment, but parents and teachers can of course use their own discretion when choosing to perform a taste-test. If you do a quick bite or drink, try not to swallow, especially if it is found to be sour. Again, this indicates the presence of bacteria that shouldn’t be there!

As always, use your best judgment - and if ever in doubt, you can always opt to not use it, or call the manufacturer to ask for guidance. We called Ronnybrook to ask them to specify what the dates on their half-gallon milks mean; a representative confirmed it is a solid expiration date and should be thrown out once past that time.

Remember, food is meant to be enjoyed! Food labeling and dating is not designed to intimidate or worry us, but to offer reassurance, empowering us to make informed choices about what we eat and feed our families.  Knowing how to interpret the information that has been provided on food packaging and labels can give us peace of mind, and fuel conversations with our young ones to help them develop into curious, healthy eaters for the rest of their lives.



Hayley Lutz, Communications & Accounts Coordinator

Red Rabbit

Curious Food of the Month: Lychees

These curious fruits are lychees. Native to southern China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia, these tropical fruits grow on evergreen trees and have rough reddish pink skins. Fresh lychees are fragrant and sweet, and they have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. The first records of lychees appear from China in 2000 BC; around 1600 AD, the first lychees were traded to Europe and the Americas. China produces the most lychees, followed by India, and they are also grown in Hawaii and Australia.

Fun Fact: In Chinese, “lychee” means “gift for a joyful life!”

How can we use lychees?

Known as a “super fruit,” lychees have inedible rinds and sweet, white insides that are enjoyed throughout the world. Lychees are most popularly eaten fresh and by hand. They are also commonly added to fruit salads, grilled on top of meats, incorporated in desserts and blended into drinks.

Fun Fact: Legends tell of the lychee’s “love” properties. The Chinese Emperor of the Tang Dynasty is believed to have ordered his guards to travel over 600 miles to pick lychees in order to attract his favorite mistress. Today, the lychee is a symbol of romance and love in China.

How are lychees good for me? 

Lychees are cholesterol-free and low in calories, saturated fat and sodium. They supply us with dietary fiber and are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, which is important for the immune system. Additionally, a Journal of Nutritionstudy found that lychees contain the second highest amounts of polyphenols of all the fruits tested. This fruit also supplies B-complex vitamins such as B6, niacin and folate, which are essential for metabolism and a healthy nervous system. Lychees are packed with potassium, which helps promote cell and heart health, and contain copper, magnesium and phosphorous.

Fun Fact: Lychees contain 40% more vitamin C than orange juice! A 100 gram serving provides roughly 70 mg of Vitamin C, which is 117% of the suggested daily value.

How to buy lychees:

Intrigued by this sweet fruit? Lychees are harvested from May through September, and canned lychees are available year-round. Look for fruits with bright red or pink skins, as these will be the most flavorful. Lychees will not ripen any further once they have been picked, so refrigerate them in a plastic bag and they will keep for about a week. To prepare, use a knife to cut a circle through the skin around the circumference of the fruit and remove the rind. Break open the fleshy fruit to remove the seed, and enjoy!

Is there a particular fruit or vegetable that you would like to see featured as our “Curious” food of the week? What about your little ones – do they have any foods they’ve been learning about in school that they would like to see on our blog? Feel free to comment below, or send us an email to tell us about an unusual fruit or vegetable you have encountered in your travels, in restaurants or even in your local supermarket! See a food you don’t recognize? Take a picture and send it to us, and we’ll put our detectives to work.

Happy hunting!

The Red Rabbit Team

The Side: An Unsung Hero of Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is not only a classic time of year to spend time with our families, but it is also an ideal opportunity to learn about the food we eat. While turkey tends to be the centerpiece of the feast, side dishes are the perfect way to bring a palate of colors and flavors to the table to complement whichever protein you feature. Luckily, the fall harvest is a bountiful one, so you have some terrific, tasty options for vegetables to bring life to the dinner table!

The Red Rabbit Team has put together some recipes to make your side dishes this year healthy, fresh and full of flavor. Below you'll find simple, healthful recipes spotlighting vegetables. Remember, you can always substitute dairy items for their non-dairy counterparts and exchange nuts or other ingredients as you see fit--you're the chef!

Garlicky Mashed Potato and Cauliflower Gratin- Serves 8

While potatoes are rich with fiber and vitamin C, they are also caloric and high in refined carbohydrates.  One way to lighten up your potato recipes and add fiber is to mix in cauliflower!  Cauliflower is highly nutritious and jam-packed with vitamins C, folate and carotenoids. It pairs well with potatoes because it is low in calories and carbohydrates while imitating the color and texture of potatoes when boiled.  You and your kids will love this reinvented mashed potato recipe!!

What you'll need:

*  2 pounds russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

*  1 (2- to 2 1/2-pound) head cauliflower, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, including stems and core

*  3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

*  Salt (to taste)

*  1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

*  1 1/4 cups whole milk, divided

*  1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided

*  4 ounces coarsely grated Italian Fontina or Gruyère (about 1 cup packed)

*  3/4 to 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided


- Put potatoes and 2 teaspoons salt in a large heavy saucepan and generously cover with cold water (about 2 1/2 quarts). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat; simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, for 15 to 20 minutes.

- While potatoes are boiling, heat 3/4 cup milk and 3 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan until butter is melted and milk is hot but not boiling. Keep warm off heat, covered.

- Drain potatoes in a sieve or colander; return to hot saucepan. Add milk mixture, Fontina, and pepper. Mash with a potato masher or fork to desired consistency. Season with salt and keep warm, covered.

- Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil, then add cauliflower and garlic; simmer until cauliflower is very tender, for 13 to 15 minutes. Drain cauliflower in a colander and pulse with remaining 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, and 3 tablespoons butter in a food processor until its a chunky purée.

- Stir together mashed potatoes and cauliflower mixture in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

- Transfer to a buttered 3-quart flameproof shallow baking dish (not glass).

- Heat oven to 425°F. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and gently brush over potato-cauliflower mixture, then sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano (to taste). Bake on the middle rack until it bubbles around edges, about 20 minutes.

- Turn on broiler and broil 6 to 8 inches from heat until topping is browned in spots (1 to 2 minutes).

Thanksgiving Activities for the Kids:

This recipe offers many opportunities for your child to play chef! Just make certain an adult is present while your young culinary master is in the kitchen.

*  Let your child grate the different cheeses, ensuring they keep their fingers curled inward and discontinue grating once there is less than an inch of cheese left. Have your child hold the cheese from the top, as far away from the grater as possible.

*  Peel the garlic cloves and smash them.

*  Add the milk mixture, Fontina, and pepper, and mash away!

*  Add ingredients to the food processor and pulse.

*  Stir together the potato-cauliflower mixture and add salt and pepper.



Homemade Cranberry Sauce- Serves 6-8


Instead of cranberry sauce from a can, why not make it from scratch?  Not only does making it at home allow you to control the taste of your cranberry sauce, but it also allows you to decide what kind of sweetener you use and avoid additives that food manufacturers often integrate. 

The following recipe uses freshly squeezed orange juice and honey to sweeten the classic side dish, providing a natural sweetness.  Also, it has a great jelly texture and vibrant cranberry flavor! This sauce can be made in advance and stored in the fridge.

What youll need:

*  1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice

*  1 1/2 cups 100 percent cranberry juice (not cocktail)

*  6 cups honey

*  6 pounds fresh cranberries, approximately 4 cups

- Wash the cranberries. Discard any soft or wrinkled ones.

- Combine the orange juice, cranberry juice and honey in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes.

- Add the cranberries and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst and the mixture thickens.

- Do not cook for more than 15 minutes, as the pectin will start to break down and the sauce will not set as well. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

- Carefully spoon the cranberry sauce into a 3 cup mold. Place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.
- Remove from the refrigerator, overturn the mold and slide out the sauce. Slice and serve.

Thanksgiving Activities for the Kids:

*  Juice the oranges--have your little chef roll them on a hard surface to loosen the juices, twist them on a juicer, and squeeze out any remaining juices. 

*  Look through the cranberries to remove soft or wrinkled ones.

*  Stir occasionally.


Roasted Root Vegetables- Serves 8

This is a fun, creative recipe because you can modify it to include your favorites!  Take this opportunity to teach your children about how some vegetables grow above ground and some grow below.  Show them the veggie with the greens attached and let them guess which part grows underground!  Many root vegetables are naturally sweet, making them appealing to children’s taste buds while also filling them up with nutrients. Roasting root vegetables brings out this natural sweetness even more!

This recipe also provides great justification for a field trip to your local farmers market! Root veggies are generally some of the lower-priced items at the market and are available all winter long.  Feel free to substitute or add to this recipe at will. No matter what you do, it will all taste great!

What you'll need:

*  4 pounds of root veggies

    Our suggestions (scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces):

    ▪     1 pound multi colored carrots

    ▪     1 pound celery root, peeled

    ▪     1 pound parsnips

    ▪     1 pound sweet potato or butternut squash

*  2 onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

*  2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut into 1-inch thick rounds

*  2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

    ▪     you could also use sage and thyme

*  ½ cup olive oil

*  10 garlic cloves, peeled

*  ¼ tsp grated nutmeg (optional)


- Position 1 rack in bottom third of oven and 1 rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Use two heavy large baking sheets.

- Combine all remaining ingredients except garlic in very large bowl; toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Divide vegetable mixture between prepared sheets. Place 1 sheet on each oven rack. Roast 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

- Reverse positions of baking sheets. Add 5 garlic cloves to each.

- Continue to roast until all vegetables are tender and brown in spots, stirring and turning vegetables occasionally, about 45 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Let stand on baking sheets at room temperature. Re-warm in 450°F oven until heated through, about 15 minutes.)

- Transfer roasted vegetables to large bowl and serve.

Thanksgiving Activities for the Kids:

*  Scrub the root veggies with a veggie scrubber brush (except for the celery root - this should be peeled by an adult).

*  Peel the garlic.

*  Remove the herbs from the sprig and chop.  This activity is best reserved for an older child with experience wielding a knife; of course, always supervise this type of activity!

*  Mix the root veggies, olive oil and herbs in a bowl.


Leftover Tip:

Take the leftover root veggies and put them in the food processor with a few cups of veggie broth.  Blend until smooth for a tasty holiday soup!

Whether you’ll be in the kitchen cooking away or outside competing in a fun run, watching the balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or your own combination of turkey-day festivities, we hope your holiday is filled with warmth, fun and (we wouldn’t be Red Rabbit without saying this!) conversations about (healthy) food!




The Red Rabbit Team

Allergy? or Intolerance...

The mealtime landscape can be a perilous one when sidestepping the landmines of food allergies and intolerances.  But what is the difference between the two?  Should we be concerned about one over the other?

Because the symptoms of these allergies and intolerances are not all mutually exclusive, understanding what kind of reaction a child is having can be difficult.  Both can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, along with their own unique symptoms.  How can we tell the difference?  

What is an allergy?

Food allergies result from the body mistaking certain proteins in the given food as harmful invaders.  In response, the immune system releases antibodies to fight and remove these supposed invaders by triggering histamines and other chemicals to release into the blood. These chemicals are what are behind the allergy signs and symptoms that we commonly see.  Such signs and symptoms often occur relatively quickly and suddenly, and can vary from mild to life threatening.  They will occur every time the food allergen is eaten and can be triggered by very small amounts of said food.

Adverse effects largely exclusive to an allergic reaction include:

Skin – itchiness, bumps, hives, or rash

Respiratory  – trouble breathing, shortness of breath

Pain – chest

Anaphylaxis – drastic reduction in blood pressure, closing of the throat, severe difficulty breathing/swallowing

What is an intolerance?

Food intolerances are gastrointestinal in nature, and occur when the body can’t properly digest what is eaten or when the food acts as an irritant in the digestive tract.  Most commonly, a lack of certain digestive enzymes in the GI tract, resulting in incomplete digestion, is the cause of an intolerance.  Such is the case with lactose intolerance, which is caused by a lack of the enzyme lactase. Symptoms resulting from an intolerance tend to emerge more slowly and may only occur when eating a large amount of the food in question, or only if it is eaten often.  Intolerances are not life threatening and tend to be more manageable than allergies in that the food may still be eaten.

Common symptoms of intolerances are:

Esophageal – heartburn

Stomach/Intestinal – cramps, bloating, gas

Mood – irritability

Pain - Headaches

Common food allergies


Tree nuts



Cow’s Milk




Common food intolerances




High Histamine (alcohols, soy, mushrooms, dried fruit, etc)

What to do if you think your child has an allergy/intolerance

First and foremost, always consult your doctor.  If you suspect your child has a food allergy, discontinue consumption of the questionable food and have your child tested for allergies. Your doctor may refer you to an allergist. If your child is diagnosed with an allergy, dependent on the severity, it may be extremely important to remain vigilant in monitoring his or her consumption by reading food ingredient labels, informing your school, and ordering carefully at restaurants.

Once it has been determined that your child has a food intolerance, a discussion can be had with your pediatrician about strategies to mitigate negative effects.  In some cases, limiting frequency and/or portioning may be effective.  In other cases, such as with lactose intolerance, an enzyme supplement may be used.

It can be a bit scary seeing the seemingly meteoric rise in reported childhood allergies in the US, which is all the more reason to see an allergist to confirm your child has an allergy or intolerance.  Managing these conditions can be difficult, but only after we know the precise cause of any symptoms can we best devise a plan of action. Knowing is half the battle!

For additional information, we encourage you to visit the following links:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

Food Allergy Network

American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

John Bashant

Nutrition Compliance & Accounts Coordinator

How to Cook with Sweet Potatoes

Despite what some commercial diet plans say, or what people have been led to believe—not all carbohydrates are "bad".  Just like not all calories are created equally, carbohydrates are not either.  They provide energy for activity and they aid in the functioning of our muscles and internal organs, so we cannot live without them.  When looking for high-quality (i.e., highly beneficial and healthful) carbohydrates, choose a nutritional super star, like sweet potatoes!

Whether child or adult...we all like to enjoy something sweet! That doesnt mean it has to be something full of added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. A sweet potato is a healthy whole food, sweet all on its own.  When eaten in moderation, in proper portion size and prepared healthfully, it’s one of nature’s best bets.  Besides their fun bright orange interior, sweet potatoes lend themselves to being seasoned by a variety of ethnic and flavorful spices, making them a “go to ingredient” no matter what the season.

 Ounce for ounce, white potatoes and sweet potatoes contain about the same amount of carbohydrates (1/2 cup = 15 grams). However, sweet potatoes are a better source of beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese and calcium than white potatoes.  In addition, sweet potatoes have more fiber and therefore a slightly lower glycemic index than their white counterparts. 

For this reason, blood glucose will rise a little more gradually with sweet potatoes than with white potatoes. The rate at which your body breaks down a specific type of carbohydrate influences how quickly the food raises your blood sugar levels and in turn lowers them and potentially causing you to be hungrier faster.   It is also a better choice for someone with diabetes or diabetic tendencies because of its composition.

Although not the same, the USDA requires the other typically orange- colored vegetable of a softer variety and a cousin of the sweet potatothe yam—to  be labeled as a sweet potato, to avoid confusion.  So, yams purchased in the United States are almost always sweet potatoes, no matter what color and shape they are. 

At Red Rabbit, we incorporate sweet potatoes into many of our signature menu offerings: baked sweet potato wedges, sweet potato mash, sweet potato bread, baked sweet potato crisps, and more.  We are constantly looking for ways to introduce kids to healthful ways to prepare vegetables for maximum taste and nutrition! 

 The key to making them a healthy part of any diet is to enjoy them with the skin—baked and not fried, without a lot of added extras, like butter and sour cream, on top!  Let us know what your favorite RR sweet potato recipe is…or recommend one of your own!


Shari Mermelstein, RD
Program Development Director

Curious Vegetable of the Week: Romanesco

This beautiful vegetable is romanesco.  Admired by architects, mathematicians, and foodies alike, this complex veggie is most closely related to cauliflower. Originally from Italy, many botanists believe this veggie first appeared during the days of Julius Caesar as the result of selective breeding by Italian farmers. Romanesco became prominent in the international market around the 1990s, and has since been enjoyed by those looking for a fun, healthy alternative to typical veggies.

Fun Fact: Known as the ‘ultimate fractal vegetable,’ the number of spirals on a head of romanesco is a Fibonacci number! For those of us who don’t quite remember our days in high school math class, fractals are patterns where when you divide a fractal pattern into parts, you get a nearly identical, smaller version of the original. The Fibonacci sequence is a pattern where, after the numbers 0 and 1, each subsequent number is equal to the two numbers before it added together (for example: 0+1 = 1, 3+5 = 8, etc.). The fruitlets on pineapples and the flowering of artichokes are also examples of naturally occurring Fibonacci patterns.

How can we use it?

Try this veggie raw to experience its fresh and slightly nutty taste. Romanesco is crunchier and more flavorful than cauliflower, and can be prepared as you would normally prepare broccoli or cauliflower. Cooked romanesco has a sweet and mild flavor, and steaming is a great method to soften this vegetable while retaining more vitamins than through boiling. Romanesco has a denser texture than its relatives, so it holds up better in a wider variety of cooking techniques. Romanesco pairs perfectly with pasta or can be dressed up in a simple mixture of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.

How is it good for me?

Like cauliflower, romanesco is low in calories (a mere 25 per cup!), fat and sodium. Romanesco is high in vitamin C and a good source of potassium, folate, vitamin K, dietary fiber and carotenoids.

How to buy it

Delighted by a veggie that is as equally enjoyable to eat as it is to admire? When purchasing romanesco, look to your local farmers’ market for firm heads that are heavy for their size and do not have any discoloration. Store this veggie in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed bag and enjoy!


The Red Rabbit Team

Trick Out Your Treats!

Halloween is nearly upon us and the shelves are stocked with tricks and treats everywhere we turn.

No need to shriek in fear of sugary treats or screech in terror at long lists of ingredients! There are plenty of ways to enjoy treats in healthy ways and create festive goodies at home. However, with the plethora of candy many trick-or-treaters receive, it can be difficult to monitor how much and what your child may be eating.

According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend close to $2.08 billion on Halloween candy this year. The average trick or treater could receive hundreds of pieces of candy containing thousands of calories, as well as sugar, additives, dyes and other mystery ingredients.

Swap out those scary snacks for some healthy goodies. Here are some helpful hints and tips for this year’s Halloween adventures!

  • Eat before you trick-or-treat! If kids are hungry while they are running from doorstep to doorstep, they will want to dig into their sugary candy en route. Eat a protein-rich meal or snack before you head out.
  • When you arrive home with your candy, allow your child to eat a few pieces and then divide the candy into what they like and don’t like. When their pile of candy is whittled down, devise a system to enjoy the candy in moderation over a period of time.
  • Offer a special gift or prize in exchange for this year’s loot! A child can trade you all of their candy (they can keep a few pieces if they’d like) for a special treat and you can donate the candy to your office or place of work.
  • Don’t worry about waste! You can send leftover candy to the troops via Operation Gratitude or call local nursing homes, food pantries, women’s shelters or a children’s hospital. If you’re feeling brainy, you can turn your remaining sugary treats into a science experiment!
  • When handing out treats to “boys and ghouls” at your home, go for some healthier options. Try whole grain granola bars, whole wheat mini pretzels or real fruit snacks. Figamajigs offer tasty fig and chocolate bars and KIND bars are packed with yummy grains and fiber.
  • Think you can spot which Halloween candy is the better option? Take this quiz to find out!

When it comes to sweet treats, making them in our own kitchens is the healthiest way to go. This way, we can control what goes into them and avoid additives and preservatives. You can even try making your own version of Halloween candy!

Twix candy bars contain over 25 ingredients, many of which are very difficult to pronounce and are not healthy for us. Try making “Twix” bars in your own kitchen! This recipe from Food52 makes 18 candy bars, each with just a handful of ingredients.

Homemade Twix Candy Bars

Shortbread Layer

·         ¾ cups butter, room temperature

·         ½ cup powdered sugar

·         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

·         ¼ teaspoon salt

·         1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 9-inch pan and set aside.

2.     In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt until the mixture looks like a coarse sand. Mix in the flour until the dough comes together.

3.     Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until the surface of the shortbread looks completely dry. Cool in pan for 15 minutes.



·         10 ounces soft caramels (or caramel bits)

·         6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1.     In a microwave safe bowl, microwave the caramel candies until completely melted and smooth, about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Using an offset spatula, spread the caramel evenly over the shortbread layer. Allow to cool for 15 minutes to set.

2.     Turn out shortbread onto a cutting board and cut into 9 1-inch wide pieces. Then, in turn, cut those pieces in half, creating 18 1-inch wide and 4 1/2-inch long candy bars.

3.     In another microwave safe bowl, melt the chopped chocolate for 15 seconds at a time, stirring between each interval, until smooth. Dip each candy bar into the chocolate, remove any excess chocolate, and set on wax paper to set completely (about 1 hour). Store in an airtight container at room temperature.


Feel free to experiment and make other yummy treats to give to friends at a Halloween party or to share at school. See some ideas below and visit our Red Rabbit Pinterest boards for some other inspiration!


            - Local NY apples drizzled in chocolate

            - Homemade air popped popcorn

            - Yogurt dipped pretzels


There are lots of tricky treats out there and making educated choices about our snacks is very important during this festive fall season.  We hope you’ll try your hand at making a few of your own treats this year. 

Have a happy, healthy Halloween!


Alexandra Roem

Account Coordinator

Creating Healthy Kids: Being the Biggest Influence

Reality television is big business these days.  Shows about weight loss are particularly popular, with “The Biggest Loser” leading the pack. Every week, millions of people tune in to watch contestants who are severely, dangerously overweight struggle to overcome not only size-related physical limitations, but also deconstruct the emotional and mental obstacles that contributed to their weight gains in the first place.

As an overweight child who grew into an obese teenager, I can personally testify to the role parents can play or not play in the prevention of obesity in adulthood: sweets were always readily available in my household, along with some healthier options, but as long as I had those sugary foods at the ready, it was my snack of choice.  My Midwestern diet was full of meat, dairy, canned vegetables full of sodium and lots of bread and butter – all of which seemed to fit the conventional wisdom of the time and culture. I was tall for my age, so my heaviness was often written off as “baby fat,” and I can even recall doctor’s appointments when my pediatrician dismissed my mother’s concerns by saying, “She will simply grow into it.”  As with most parents who love their children, she did the best with what she knew and followed the advice of my doctor.

Granted, this was the early 90’s, before obesity had reached the near-epidemic proportions it has now, and long before doctors started seeing Type-2 diabetes pop up in grammar-school-aged children.

What, then, can we do if we suspect our child might be developing a weight problem?  

One of the first things to do is talk to your pediatrician, who can confirm whether or not actions need to be taken. With younger children, it is recommended to maintain weight rather than lose it, and closely monitor growth and weight gain to make sure they are in proportion with each other. It is not recommended to reduce calories, as children are still growing and have a lot of energy!  Instead, make sure there are a lot of fresh fruits and veggies within easy reach of little hands, and be sure they see you eating your daily doses of produce as well! The Biggest Loser contestants who are parents are right to strive to be better role-models for their children, as kids are known to mirror the behavior of the adults in their lives.

What if our kids refuse to eat their veggies?

This is some of the most common feedback we receive at Red Rabbit.  If your children are already insisting on a diet consisting of chicken nuggets, cookies or macaroni and cheese, fear not!  Young children are very adaptable and open to new things. Because they are learning how to voice their opinion and exert some control in their life, making food choices is often their first doses of independence. At Red Rabbit, we encourage children to try new foods in our cooking labs by talking about the food and where it comes from, followed by preparing a simple dish together and then sharing it.  The excitement children have when they are invited to participate in meal preparation tends to overshadow any initial skepticism.  By encouraging kids to eat their veggies and fruits by involving them in the cooking prep, we lay the groundwork for the wholesome eating habits needed to maintain a healthy weight well into adulthood!

What if my child is older, is overweight and has voiced concern about it?

Talking to a pre-teen or teenager about their weight can be a sensitive topic, and it’s very important to keep communication open and encouraging. A benefit here is that the older a child is, the more involved he or she can be in having a dialogue about how to be healthier. Sometimes, this can mean us adults taking a closer look at our own habits and adjusting how we eat as family.  The more support a tween or teen feels, the easier it will be to talk about making changes to support weight loss if needed. 

When I was 13, my height had reached my current 5’3,” but my weight had risen to 207 pounds. By that point I had matured enough to ponder what my future would look like if I continued to eat the things I was eating. The thing that ultimately helped me was education: I took a health class in school that talked about the nature of calories in, calories out as well as the importance of eating fresh vegetables – not the canned kind to which I was accustomed.  It also introduced to me the concept of serving sizes.  My dad bought me a calorie counting book, and instead of going to our favorite fast-food place on Saturdays for our daddy-daughter dates, we visited the local sandwich shop that supplied an array of fresh ingredients. Having my parents show such support as I endeavored to improve my health was the key to my success, and ultimately I lost 100 pounds – the majority of which I have kept off to this day.

Exercise is also an important factor for teenagers who are looking to lose weight, and playing sports is a great way to complement healthier eating habits.  The more weight I lost, the more active I was able to be. I joined the tennis team, track and softball team.  Those of us who play sports can attest to its benefits: it instills confidence, builds social skills and fosters a sense of belonging.  It can also shift the focus away from weight in general, and onto meeting performance milestones and achieving a goal as part of a team. If playing team sports isnt an option, then making exercise a part of family time by hiking, going for a walk after dinner or for bike rides on the weekends will reinforce to a teenager how important it is that she not only meet her goals, but that fitness plays a factor in our lives, too!

There are plenty of ways to stop the spread of obesity in children, and as the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" have found, it all begins with us adults!  As the parents and educators, we have the power to positively influence the choices kids make in their eating and activity habits.  The more healthy choices they see us making, the more likely they will make these same decisions for themselves. The more excited we are about trying new foods and eating our fruits and vegetables, the less skeptical they will be! At Red Rabbit, we are proud to be a part of this exciting journey of providing access to fresh, wholesome meals to kids and fostering an interest in healthy eating for a lifetime. 

Here’s to health!

Hayley Lutz 

Red Rabbit Client Services Coordinator/Account Specialist

Curious Food of the Week: Starfruit!

Curious Food of the Week: Starfruit!

Whew, it sure is hot out! At Red Rabbit, we like to eat a lot of fruit to provide a quick nutritious sweet treat, as well as some relief from this classic July heat!

Every week, our Education Team likes to feature a curious food for our offices to try, and this time were excited about the star fruit.

Read More